Household Gods The British and their Possessions Deborah Cohen

Publication date:
01 Nov 2009
Yale University Press
336 pages: 189 x 234mm
100 b-w + 15 color illus.
Sales territories:

A fascinating account of the British preoccupation with homes, interior decoration, and personal possessions since 1830

At what point did the British develop their mania for interiors, wallpaper, furniture, and decoration? Why have the middle classes developed so passionate an attachment to the contents of their homes? This absorbing book offers surprising answers to these questions, uncovering the roots of today’s consumer society and investigating the forces that shape consumer desires. Richly illustrated, Household Gods chronicles a hundred years of British interiors, focusing on class, choice, shopping, and possessions.

Exploring a wealth of unusual records and archives, Deborah Cohen locates the source of modern consumerism and materialism in early nineteenth-century religious fervor. Over the course of the Victorian era, consumerism shed the taint of sin to become the preeminent means of expressing individuality. The book ranges from musty antique shops to luxurious emporia, from suburban semi-detached houses to elegant city villas, from husbands fretting about mantelpieces to women appropriating home decoration as a feminist cause. It uncovers a society of consumers whose identities have become entwined with the things they put in their houses.

Deborah Cohen is associate professor of history at Brown University. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

"In this riveting and revealing book, Deborah Cohen takes the reader on a journey through interiors cluttered with papier-mâché beds, fire screens set with stuffed birds, soup tureens shaped as boar's heads and baths decorated with shells. . . . If you want to understand the roots of Britain's peculiar taste for home improvement and today's obsession with DIY, IKEA shop openings, makeover and property TV programmes, Household Gods provides all the answers."—Andrea Wulf, The Guardian

"[Cohen’s] is a genuinely fresh approach, diverging from the mainstream furrow ploughed by most historians to concentrate in the main on real lives and real choices—of ‘life lived outside the tyranny of grand design’—and she does it subtly, confidently and with real pace."—Kate Colquhoun, Daily Telegraph

"Cohen writes with great wit and clarity. She’s as perceptive on contemporary property programmes (covered in an epilogue) as she is on Henry Cole and fin de siècle orientalism."—John O’Connell, Time Out  (Book of the Week)